London Heathrow has been dogged by controversy and criticism over staff shortages, delays, and cancellations—and then a decision to cap daily passenger departures at 100,000 this summer. But the author found that the U.K. hub is working a lot better than some media might suggest.
“Traveling from Canada to London, England, I have to comment on how awesome the Heathrow Airport arrivals experience was. Having just completed this trip, and anticipating the worst, I found the opposite. We disembarked with ease, immigration was a breeze (I love the dedicated line for travelers with children, not to mention the friendliness of the immigration officer), and our checked baggage arrived on the belts perfectly.
“In the current climate travel is challenging for any individual regardless of the purpose of travel—adding a child/children, complicates this process even further, no matter how much you try to prepare in advance: online check-in, packing strategically for activities, extra items in case checked luggage does not make it, etc.
“When I embarked on a long-awaited trip back to the U.K. with my 8-year-old, my travel persona was ever-evolving throughout the eight hours of the airport departure experience. It was my first international leisure trip since 2019, blended with business, so I guess we can refer to my blended persona as the newer emerging ‘bleisure’ traveler.
“Layered with the complexities of putting my individual needs for the optimal airport experience to one side, to ensure my daughter was comfortable and content, to ensure she was settled for our red-eye flight, our challenge started once we finally passed security at our departing airport in Canada.
“We were faced with a sea of frustrated travelers, crying passengers, never-ending queues for F&B and the lounges, check-in gates constantly changing (including ours), delayed flights (we were delayed by some hours ourselves), and a swathe of canceled flights.
“While this was the toughest airport departure experience I have ever faced—making me apprehensive about our return trip back in a few weeks—anyone traveling for any purpose in the upcoming weeks/months will most likely experience similar challenges. On that note, we must not lose sight that:
“Eighteen days later, and it was time for our return to Canada. Once more, kudos to London Heathrow. While I did not set any positive expectations and was slightly pessimistic about traveling as a departing return passenger with my daughter—especially with the decision last week to cap passenger numbers—this looks like it made total sense.
“Heathrow made a bold and brave move. I could see clearly how the airport wished to retain its reputation for excellent customer experience, even if it meant capping the daily numbers for the next couple of months.
“These are my three top takeaways from our departure experience yesterday:
1) Heathrow placed the utmost importance on families traveling with kids. From the landside Cost Coffee shop, to the Air Canada check-in staff, to security to the airside concessions staff, the service level was consistent and positive. The staff really took their time to interact with my daughter, what may seem like small gestures made her feel really special. When the child is this happy, the parent is even happier.
2) Despite the current workforce challenges felt in our industry worldwide, cleanliness standards have certainly not slipped at Heathrow, and hand sanitizer stands were still available throughout all the touchpoints. Traveling through a clean environment is always reassuring and one of the most important basic needs of passengers.
3) Great wayfinding. I set my eight-year-old the fun task/game, once past security, to navigate us to the gate when announced on the FIDS. She did not once ask for help. If an eight-year-old can work it out, then the wayfinding is incredibly clear.
Well done London Heathrow.”